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Birding Costa Rica Introduction Pacific slope

Antswarms at Carara National Park on

This past Saturday, I spent most of the morning in the rainforests of Carara National Park. I usually visit this birdy protected area for guiding, but on Saturday, I cruised down the new highway to the hot coastal plain not to help birders see Turquoise-browed Motmots, Great Tinamous, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatchers, and Spot-crowned Euphonias, but to make recordings of their voices and digitally capture them. Well, at least that was the plan. The recordings were fairly productive but good photos were as elusive as sightings of the Selva Cacique.

The cloudy, humid weather in the already dim understory of the rainforest just couldn’t provide enough light for my digiscoping set-up no matter how much I fiddled with the camera. For unknown disappointing reasons, my camera also demonstrated its propensity to focus on sticks instead of birds even when the bird was smack dab in the center of the screen. I realize that the Sony Cybershot wasn’t developed for getting shots of birds, but it surely wasn’t designed to amass a photographic catalogue of twigs either. Oh well, I’m sure there’s a way to take better bird pictures with it, I just need to figure out how to do it.

Since the park doesn’t open until 8 a.m. during the low, rainy season, I started my birding day along the road to Bijagual. This is the same dirt road that passes in front of Villa Lapas and is always productive for birds. Although you don’t see species of the forest interior such as Great Tinamou and Black-faced Antthrush, views of the forest edge and hillsides are good for mixed flocks and raptors. On Saturday morning, I picked a spot that lacked stream noise and recorded such targets as Rufous and white wren1 and Northern Bentbill. Cocoa Woodcreeper and other species called in the distance as did Marbled Wood-Quail (species 527 for the year). There was also enough light for me to adequately capture Scrub Euphonia and Northern Bentbill.

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Scrub Euphonia- these guys are actually related to goldfinches.

Northern Bentbill- Carara is an excellent site for this species.

Once the clock “struck” 8, I headed over to the park entrance, paid my fee, and entered the forest. Shortly after, I realized that I had made a grave error in not bringing along some serious plastic melting DEET as I was assaulted by a healthy population of thirsty mosquitoes. Those little vampires are around during the dry season too but their numbers pale in comparison to what I experienced on Saturday. It’s still not as bad as any wet, summer woodland of the far north but be forewarned that you will need repellent in Carara during the wet season!

To avoid recording cars along with bird sounds, I walked straight back into the forest as far as the figure eight trail would go before setting up my LS10 recorder, Sennheiser microphone, and headphones. I walked through the forest with headphones on and it must have looked a bit strange, but if only those bemused non-birding tourists could hear what I did!  Black-faced Antthrushes were especially vocal, Plain Xenops bickered, Rufous Pihas occasionally called in the distance, and a Black-striped Woodcreeper sang from some canopy tree trunk. Long-tailed Woodcreeper also vocalized once in a while but I wasn’t able to capture its song (unfortunately as there are few recordings of this taxon that almost certainly deserves to be split from Amazonian Long-tailed Woodcreepers because it sounds radically different from them).

The back part of the trail also resulted in a neotropical prize- an army antswarm! I noticed the columns of ants crossing the trail but it wasn’t until I scanned the forest floor in the direction they were heading that I saw some birds. Two Black-faced Antthrushes were running back and forth in the front of the swarm and a handful of Bicolored Antbirds clung to vertical stems as they pumped their tails and quietly “churred” (new word describing the vocalizations that this and other related antbird species give). A pair of Chestnut-backed Antbirds and Riverside Wrens were also taking advantage of the easy pickings but other birds such as woodcreepers, tinamous, Gray-headed Tanager, and Spectacled Antpitta were strangely absent.

So it is with antswarms. You will see some birds with the swarm but you often need to wait around and follow the front until other birds show up. Even if you don’t see much at first, it’s always worth it to follow the swarm if you can because in addition to the expected bunch of ant following birds, things like motmots, foliage-gleaners, and even forest-falcons will suddenly pop into view. Of course, you have to be in a position where you can follow the ants though, and on Saturday, as the nomadic predators marched off into thick second growth, I realized that this wasn’t one of those occasions.

Nevertheless, I still managed to get some grainy shots of:

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birding Costa Rica

Black-faced Antthrush,

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Bicolored Antbird,

birding Costa Rica

and Riverside Wren.

This was undoubtedly the highlight of the day but as usual when birding Carara, I still identified a bunch of other birds. The tally for the morning in the park and along Bijagual road was 94 species and included:

Great Tinamou

Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Laughing Falcon

Gray Hawk

Marbled Wood-Quail

Short-billed Pigeon

Gray-chested Dove

White-tipped Dove

Inca Dove

Scarlet Macaw

Brown-hooded Parrot

Orange-chinned Parakeet

Squirrel Cuckoo

Striped Cuckoo

Groove-billed Ani

Long-billed Hermit

Stripe-throated Hermit

Purple-crowned Fairy

White-necked Jacobin

Charming Hummingbird

Steely-vented Hummingbird

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Blue-throated Goldentail

Violaceous (Gartered) Trogon

Blue-crowned Motmot

Turquoise-browed Motmot

White-whiskered Puffbird

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Golden-naped Woodpecker

Plain Xenops

Long-tailed Woodcreeper

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper

Cocoa Woodcreeper

Streak-headed Woodcreeper

Black-striped Woodcreeper

Black-hooded Antshrike

Barred Antshrike

Slaty Antwren

Dot-winged Antwren

Dusky Antbird

Chestnut-backed Antbird

Bicolored Antbird

Black-faced Anthrush

Greenish Elaenia

Ochre-bellied Flycatcher

Northern Bentbill

Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher

Common Tody-Flyatcher

Yellow-Olive Flycatcher

Golden-crowned Spadebill

Royal Flycatcher

Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher

Dusky-capped Flycatcher

Great Kiskadee

Boat-billed Flycatcher

Piratic Flycatcher

Tropcial Kingbird

Rufous Piha

White-winged Becard

Rose-throated Becard

Long-tailed Manakin

Lesser Greenlet

Tawny-crowned Greenlet

Gray-breasted Martin

Southern Rough-winged Swallow

Rufous-naped Wren

Riverside Wren

Rufous and white Wren

Rufous-breasted Wren

Scaly-breasted Wren

Long-billed Gnatwren

Tropical Gnatcatcher

Clay-colored Robin

Rufous-capped Warbler

Tropical Parula

Blue-gray Tanager

White-shouldered Tanager

Bay-headed Tanager

Red-crowned Ant-Tanager

Green Honeycreeper

Variable Seedeater

White-collared Seedeater

Blue-black Grassquit

Blue-Black Grosbeak

Orange-billed Sparrow

Buff-throated Saltator

Bronzed Cowbird

Montezuma Oropendola

Yellow-throated Euphonia

Scrub Euphonia

Yellow-crowned Euphonia

Spot-crowned Euphonia